Best Ways to Shop Generic Brands

Here are some tips to help solve some of the confusion when it comes to choosing generic products instead of name brands.

TLC's "Extreme Couponing" expert and CEO of LOZO, Jeff Kaplan, shares these helpful hints to save money when shopping generics.

What does "generic" really mean?

Generic is a broad term people use to describe everything from no-name plain white box items to well-known store brands. Some stores like Publix and Trader Joe's put their own name on their store brands. Others are designed to seem more like traditional name brands like Archer Farms from Target or Equate and Great Value form Wal-Mart.

What is the best way to shop generic brands?

First, you need to know the generic brands might not be cheaper. This is why you should always check the unit price. The unit price, typically the cost per ounce, is the easiest and best way to compare choices. Stores provide this information for you right on the shelf.

Generics can typically save you 20 to 30 percent versus retail, name-brand prices. However, when a name-brand item goes on sale, it may be cheaper than the store brand. And when you add in coupons and your store loyalty card, you might save 40 to 60 percent with the name brand.

Because more people have started buying generics, some stores have taken advantage by raising prices on these items more than they have for name-brand items. Always be aware of this and compare prices closely.

How do you know when to choose the generic?

That's easy. The fewer the ingredients, the better it is to choose generics. When it comes to food, consider using generics to substitute for items that are straightforward and have few ingredients like milk, eggs, sugar, flour, spices, rice, beans, seltzer/club soda, fruits, veggies, butter or margarine.

Around the house you can try generics for products like cleaning supplies, most over-the-counter medicines and paper products.

Can you use coupons on generic items?

Yes, you can use coupons on generics. Store-wide coupons work on store brands, too. Some stores offer coupons specifically for their generic items. You can even find digital grocery coupons to print at home or save to your loyalty card. Some stores have their own coupon books for their name brands in the store at customer service.

Kaplan's Extra Tips:

-You can eat healthy with generics. Many store brands offer big savings for expensive items like organic and lactose-free products.

-Sometimes cheap can be expensive. If you need three times as many paper towels to do the job, then you are not saving money.

-Look for store-brand sales. "Buy one get one 50 percent off" is a popular one and can be a good time to stock up.

-They are not the same, but they might be just as good. That substitute for your favorite cola might taste different and you might not like it as much. But in taste tests done across many categories, generics and store brands typically fare as well as name brands.

-Use clear plastic containers. We can sometimes trick ourselves into thinking we like something better because of the name and our kids might insist on having a specific brand in the house. One thing you can do is store your items like cereal in clear plastic containers so you can't tell what the brand is.

Always remember:

-Having a name brand doesn't necessarily mean the product is better. Name-brand companies spend a lot of money on advertising, packaging and their locations on store shelves. These extra costs often translate to a bigger price tag.

-Generic or store brand products may offer comparable taste and quality, and in some cases might even be the same product underneath the wrapper, produced by the same factory that makes the name brand. One way to tell whether the generic item is from the same company as your favorite name brand is to check the label to see where it was manufactured. If they're both from the same town, it's a good bet.